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Sunday Slugfest: Legion of Super-Heroes #44

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Jim Shooter
Sanford Greene (p), Nathan Massengill (i), Jo Smith (colors)
DC Comics
"Enemy Rising Part 5: Operational Calculus"

Joey Davidson: 2.5 Bullets
Shawn Hill: 3.5 Bullets
Ray Tate: 5 Bullets

Joey Davidson 2.5 Bullets

This current arc of Legion has been a bit too spastic for my tastes. The team is so large and unwieldy that it becomes difficult at times for the book to maintain good pacing and understandability as far as the plot is concerned. Sure, the Legion was split into three separate groups, but the way Jim Shooter executes this sloppy plotline is confusing.

I don't mean to say that his writing is necessarily bad, but the way he handled the three distinct situations was a bit off-putting. It actually got to the point where I stopped caring about two of the conflicts entirely and only wanted to get back to the Earth-side of things to catch up with Lightning Lad and his plight. It seems as if the only character worth caring about here is Lightning Lad. The start of the arc had me intrigued about Invisible Kid and Brainiac 5, but those two have fallen out of place in the midst of an incredibly hectic story.

That's not entirely true. Invisible Kid does show up to kick some ass here. It happens. But it's just such a wash that it becomes hard to sit back and pick out specific moments of intensity. Like I said, the plot and its threads are so messily wound that it is a little unmanageable.

What has been clear and concise, however, has been enjoyable. Legion fans will probably find a way to disagree with my comments concerning plot on nearly every level as they might love the events within. Lightning Lad, Invisible Kid, Saturn Girl and even a new cast member get some awesome, individual moments that do manage to stand out in the muck. Credit goes to Shooter for being able to single out characters and give them defining moments.

What I am going to complain about until the day I die is the curse-substitution language. "Florg that…," "Let's show them who they're zorking with…" The obnoxious loophole that writers like Shooter and the folks that put that "frack" back in Battlestar Ga-crap-tica (yeah, I went there) is a complete turn-off and almost a waste of my time. I even view it as a sign of bad writing. Rather than finding a way to circumvent the curse words entirely and writing, perhaps, better and more inventive dialogue, writers like Shooter decide that now is a good time to throw in a zork, florg, etc. Look, I don't care what you have to do, just don't make me read the word "zork" again.

Shawn Hill 3.5 Bullets

Plot: This issue is packed with incident and drama as Shooter explores two away missions and one homebase site, all of which find Legionnaires in dire straits of one sort or another. Fill-in artist Greene has a more cartoonish style than Manapul, but he differentiates the large cast (literally every panel is a crowd scene), making some fun Blade Runner and Gladiator references along the way, and delivers several dramatic moments with style.

Comments: I love it when the Legion reminds me of Star Trek (roughly simultaneous, the two sci-fi concepts seem to share many thematic concepts over the years), and the plight of the team on Planet Velmar V is straight out of an old Kirk and Spock adventure. Barbarian raiders have gained the upper hand on the team, and promise torturous fates until one Legionnaire makes a wild bluff to turn the tables.

Meanwhile, on Rimbor, another team, already suffering from a battle against foes known as Life-Eradicators, is prevented from leaving by Science Police in pursuit of Ultra Boy. Finding their hands tied against the cops, the Legion suffers under their blows before striking back. On Ultra Boy's homeworld, everyone's guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the governmental and bureaucratic problems with the team come to a head, with Lightning Lad's poor skills at detail management finding the team under arrest and kicked out of their own homebase.

But just as soon as all looks lost, situations turn around in all three cases, in an interlocking way that speaks to the seriousness of what the Legion does. Invisible Kid's strategy for coping with the pirates is quite clever (and hinges on the unique abilities of the Legion flight rings); on Rimbor, Saturn Girl takes off the kid gloves with the attacking cops, saves things at a crucial moment due to the unique abilities of the Legion flight rings and finds transportation routes open again; the latter of which is thanks to the Earth-side contingent, or specifically new Legion business affairs manager M’rissey, who has actually hired a PR firm to do what Lightning Lad can't and get the gov't off their backs.

This new character is Shooter's idea of a disaffected youth (the whole PR problem with this version of the Legion is that they represent youth rebellion against entrenched, conservative authority), and he doesn't just pull him out of a hat. M'rissey (get it?) has been acting behind the scenes and off-panel for a few issues now. Turns out he's a rejected applicant who found himself a useful role within the organization. He even came up with a solution for the Legion's fiscal problems which hinges on the unique properties of the Legion Flight rings.

What would be complicated is crystal clear thanks to Shooter's ability to focus on each member as a player in a larger organization, and things finally look slightly up for the beleaguered team, at least until the latest threat to the solar system arises. Even then, who does Earthgov call for help? That's right, the possessors of those wondrous flight rings.

Ray Tate: 5 Bullets

"Enemy Rising Part 5: Operation Calculus"

While Francis Manapul provides the cover for this issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes, he's not on hand for the art duties inside the book. This would be damaging if not for able replacements.

Sanford Greene and Nathan Massengill are no strangers to Legion territory. Both have brought their talents to Legion's sister title Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century, which is based on the animated series. Here we get to see Greene work outside of the specific design of that show. I'm happy to say that while Greene is sometimes a little overly angular with his art, his cartoony take on the current DCU Legion is attractive, adventurous and much lighter in tone than Manapul's pencils.

In the opening scene, Shooter shows a Legion away team that's been beaten and bound by a red-skinned criminal gang. The leader of this tribe intends to rape Light Lass. In the past, I've always spoken out against the raping of characters in comic books. Rape happens in the real world, but it is my opinion that this horrendous crime need not be duplicated in fiction. That's mainly because it's too often used for the sake of titillation rather than dramatization.

No writer in comics, few in other media, has ever done justice to the victims of rape; taking things to their natural conclusion like the victim's trip to the hospital, the embarrassment of having to endure the paraphernalia of a rape kit, the examination by a doctor, possible surgical intervention, the awful questions the victim must answer when questioned by the police and the district attorney, the new complication of fundamentalist doctors that refuse to prescribe the Morning After Pill. Even a writer of extraordinary skill doesn't have the time or resources to deal with the subject properly. So, don't do it at all.

It is my opinion that the threat of rape is enough to represent the reality in fiction and contextually more satisfying in a world where men and women can break every bone in a rapist's body by simply sneezing. There is something even more unsavory about the rape of women with super-powers or incredible martial skills. It's as if the writer is saying, no matter how powerful or talented you become, you're still no match for man who will succeed in raping you. It's a repellent philosophy. One that I will always protest.

Shooter sets up the threat of rape properly in Legion of Super-Heroes. Light Lass is as helpless as all the other Legionnaires, regardless of gender. She's weeping at the thought of the leader assaulting her. The leader is scum enough to carry out his plans, and Shooter also adds the idea that rape is part of their culture and practiced as well by the women. There will be no example of sisterhood on this planet.

Greene's art lends to the idea that the leader's not going to succeed. There are exceptions to prove the rule, but the more realistic the artwork, the more likely that the drama in the story will play out realistically. Thanks to Sanford Greene, Legion of Super-Heroes is essentially a cartoon, a different kind of cartoon to be sure, but a cartoon nonetheless. The style dulls some of the edginess from the leader's intent. You can rest assured that he will fail.

Shooter has the leader terrorize Light Lass, but when it looks like he's taken the first steps to succeed--foreshadowed by few carefully placed claw marks in her skin--the writer comes up with a reason inherent to the Legion of Super-Heroes for the leader's failure. The rescue comes next, and when Light Lass is unlashed, Greene shows her power unleashed. Light Lass always struck me as the lesser incarnation of Ayla Ranzz. I much preferred her as a mistress of lightning, but Greene gives her an outstanding moment that's also enhanced by Jo Smith's subtle color effects.

When Shooter moves away from that away team, he doesn't lose any steam. The away team on the Planet Rimbor finally fight back against the Science Police, and Shooter picks an interesting character to make that tactical choice. You don't expect it, but the dialogue denoting her decision draws on her characterization. Some of the Science Police do not even wish to fight he Legion. They've been ordered to. Others have massive chips on their shoulder, and Green choreographs a martial arts duel that however brief still reminds you of Hong Kong actioners. Shooter makes certain that though this is war, there will be no casualties. The Legion does not kill the ostensible good guys or even the neutral guys.

While these battles occur, the Legion's newest member--and I'm delighted to see how many people were wrong in predicting this character as the Legion's newest enemy--extricates the team from the bowels of bureaucracy.

Despite the lack of Francis Manapul, Shooter and Greene's team up with sharp inking from Nathan Massengill and brilliant color from Jo Smith make this issue another winner.

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